Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings: a Metafictional Story

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Happy Endings is an oddly structured, metafictional story; a series of possible scenarios all leading the characters to the same ending. Atwood uses humour and practical wisdom to critique both romantic fiction and contemporary society, and to make the point that it is not the end that is important, it is the journey that truly matters in both life and writing.

Metafiction is fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions (website 1). Margaret Atwood is clearly mocking the conventions of romantic fiction throughout the entire story, beginning with the third line "if you want a happy ending, try A." Each scenario includes the idea that "you'll still end up with A" despite the rest of the story, and this indicates that romantic fiction lacks creativity and gives us the ending we want and expect; a happy one. Atwood is also taking a stab at the readers of this genre, who are not only satisfied, but blissfully content with an ending that may not be realistic, but is easy and fun to take in. With statements like "this is the thin part of the plot, but it can be dealt with later" in scenario C, she demonstrates how romantic fiction is full of fluff. In scenario D she writes "they clasp each other, wet and dripping and grateful" a wonderfully hokey idea. Situation E clearly shows how this genre lacks character development, and one could fill in the blanks with manufactured ideas to form a piece of work. She considers romantic fiction and the belief that these lame stories are realistic, ridiculous.

The very structure of Atwood's story is a critique of literary form, as she completely abandons convention. This piece has no real structure, and plots are laid out as a list ...

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...tructure, including the complete lack of realism of romantic fiction in less than 1500 words. The "stretch in the hardest to do anything with" is doctrine that applies to fiction writing as much as it does to life. With the statement "[plots] are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why" Atwood is solidifying her case that it is not the ending that matters, it is how we, or the characters get there. The ending is unimportant because no matter how you slice it, "John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die." And so do the rest of us.


Margaret Atwood: "Happy Endings" from Good Bones and Simple Murders, 1983, 1992, 1994 O.W. Toad Ltd.

Web site 1: Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company- (definition of metafiction)

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